1. Entry level, prosumer, or professional? Immediately ruled out the professional models, which had a ton of features that I probably wouldn't use. Plus they're super expensive!
2. Price point? Somewhere in the under $1000 range.
3. Brand? Based on tons of reviews and my own experience with point-and-shoot digital cameras, I knew I wanted either a Nikon or Canon. I've owned many Canon cameras (both film and digital) so my initial loyalty leaned that way, but Nikon SLRs have an esteemed reputation. I was torn until...
4. Lenses? I had no clue as to how to choose these. However, I learned that a good lens can be even more important than the camera body. A good lens consistently delivers quality photos and can be used for many years, even as you upgrade or change the camera body (assuming you stay with the same brand, I think). Nikon lenses have an awesome reputation for sharpness, color, clarity, and all-around reliability. Ok, now I'm sold.
5. Where to buy? Fortunately, my brother-in-law happened to purchase a dSLR a few months back. He sent me a great spreadsheet organized with information on cameras and accessories with their prices broken down by online stores. I initially planned to purchase everything from Amazon, but ended up with a better deal at Buydig.
After this exhausting but fruitful search, I chose (drumroll)....
The Nikon D90! It comes with an 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S VR DX Nikkor Zoom Lens, which I learned was a fairly good all-around lens for everyday photos and portraits.
However, I was also told that a 50mm lens takes the coolest, funnest photos, so I bought this too:
Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras - only $124 on Amazon!
Orders have been placed, and now I have to wait 5-9 business days to start playing with them.
Did I mention I'm SO excited?